The United States has long struggled to support new families, and Illinois has only recently focused on policy goals for universal childcare, expanded Medicaid benefits and home visiting programs.
WBEZ examined how policies play out for new parents in a series called “The First 12 Weeks.” Through three new mothers, Kristal, Asel and Katie, WBEZ explored how their needs changed based on factors like race, income, gender, sexuality and even citizenship status.
Reporter Elly Fishman recently joined WBEZ’s Reset to discuss the mothers’ experiences with Black postpartum care, immigration and legal rights as queer parents. She was joined by Karie Stewart, certified nurse-midwife at UI Health; Annie Conquest, certified nurse midwife at Erie Family Health Centers; and Dr. Liz Glassgow, executive director of Innovations to ImPROve Maternal OuTcomEs and medical director of the UI Health Two-Generation Clinic.
On barriers that exist for Black mothers and families:
Karie Stewart: Access is just a small point, right. There were not very many clinics in that [Auburn Gresham] area. We’ve lost a couple of OB-GYN clinics, we’ve lost several labor and delivery units, and so patients can’t just pick up and move and go and live where those facilities are. Access has been an issue. Food insecurity has been an issue and safety has been an issue … The University of Illinois Health Center, we have six Black midwives. That’s the largest right now in the Midwest that work together that I’m aware of.
On the challenges immigrant mothers face while navigating health care in the U.S.:
Annie Conquest: I think about 70% of my patients are immigrants. And they come from all different places on Earth, and many of them are undocumented immigrants, or … on a visa. I also have quite a few refugees in my practice. It’s really about trying to coordinate care. But also just for me to midwife, an entire family … not just through a labor … but also help birth this family into America, which means really getting the right people in the room together to help them navigate.
For new immigrants, one of the first things is that they have to get involved in a system that does not make any sense to even those of us who speak the language and understand the laws.
On how immigrant mothers may be scared away from accessing resources:
Elly Fishman: Medicaid covers, I believe, half the births in this country. For many women who are new parents who are covered by Medicaid, the cost is close to $0. But Asel was told that enrolling in a public benefit could jeopardize a future green card application. I know that can be a fear among new immigrants, especially after the Trump administration kind of doubled down on public charge laws. So, she elected to buy health care on the marketplace and now she’s looking at a bill of close to $7,000 for the birth of her daughter.
On how postpartum care for new parents is neglected:
Dr. Liz Glassgow: Now we know a lot more about how to care for postpartum women. It’s recommended that it’s a series [of check ups]. For many moms who have mental health conditions or chronic conditions, they need a lot more touch points because those conditions could have been exacerbated by or emerged during pregnancy and those are all things that need to be addressed … For many moms in the U.S., they don’t get the recommended care — not even the 12-week visit. This is particularly the case for low-income moms … It’s very dangerous. It can contribute to severe maternal morbidity and in some cases, mortality … Postpartum period is not just the first 12 weeks, it’s the first 12 months after you deliver a baby.
Mendy Kong is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow them @ngogejat.